What is this cool-looking boneish thing I found on the beach?
June 6, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I found this thing (front, back) on an ocean-facing beach in Southern MA, sort of near a freshwater pond and a little woods area. It is about 3" long, maybe a shade more. I am not sure what it is. Internet randos (Instagram, Twitter) don't seem to know and their ideas aren't even coalescing around a single (coral, fossil, head bone, tail bone....) idea. Do you know?

I a librarian pretty good at Googling and have been looking at various skulls and pelvises for a while now, so I'm looking for something maybe a little more narrowed down than that. Guesses appreciated, of course, but I'm really looking for "Oh yeah sure that is _______ and here's a picture"
posted by jessamyn to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like a sternum to me.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:17 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looks like a highly weathered raccoon skull fragment to me. The weathering is why some people are saying coral, especially on the "front" view, it has revealed the spongy nature of the bone. I can't find any comparable pictures because people mostly post nice-looking fairly complete raccoon skulls. Compare your "back" to this image. Keep in mind the fragile eye bones almost always break off first, and the teeth go away next. The brain case bit sometimes lasts longer, but it is also egg-shell thin, and often mostly absent.

Raccoons are highly aquatic, and I often find their skull fragments near creeks and ponds. Another reason to suspect raccoon is that they are so dirt common. If it were a tail bone or sternum from some much larger animal, we'd normally expect to see other bones relatively close by.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:24 AM on June 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I asked a very similar question over 10 years ago (!), though the images are lost to the vagaries of Flickr. It was not a similar looking bone, but maybe Rumple still has that friendly colleague?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:28 AM on June 6, 2017

I suggest sending the photo to a state natural history museum and/or state university wildlife biology/zoology department.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2017

I keep thinking that it's a weathered bone. If so, it's an unpaired boneā€”one that's symmetrical about the midline. Maybe a sternum or sacrum or some skull bone. (If it's the latter, wow, good luck with that!)

My best guess is it's a water fowl's synsacrum, pretty weathered down. They come in lots of different shapes and sizes.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 8:48 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The symmetrical pointiness at the bottom reminds me of an arrowhead, and it almost looks carved/decorated on the front. Are we positive it's just a random bone fragment and not an artifact?
posted by jhope71 at 9:20 AM on June 6, 2017

There are several bone identification specialist Tumblrs (sorry, I'm on mobile and can't link)-- you could submit your pics there!
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:41 AM on June 6, 2017

This may be very obvious, and if so, I'm sorry, but what about contacting someone at a local university's natural history department?
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:59 AM on June 6, 2017

It looks very close to a weathered (sea) bird skull, if not a synsacrum. The front view looks like it's been weathered beyond the former smooth upper surface, revealing the pneumaticity characteristic of bird bones. I could see the semicircular indentations as former eye orbits. If you can make a few measurements you might want to tinker with this bird skull identification tool.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:03 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not a bone ID expert but I handle a lot of weird bones, shells, and fossils through work. Compared to a shell of the same approximate size and shape, does it feel light, heavy, or about the same?
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:44 PM on June 6, 2017

About the same. It feels and looks bone-ish to me.
posted by jessamyn at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2017

In case you didn't know, there are dichotomous keys for skulls. You may find some online but the best ones are in print in some dusty corner of the library, sometimes on closed reserve. I don't know if a) this is complete enough for a key to even help or b) what kinds of domain-specific vocabulary you might need to properly use it. For example I can limp my way through most botanical dichotomous keys but usually not ones for insects. Anyway, might be something to pursue, if you're willing to work under the assumption that it's a skull fragment.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:20 PM on June 6, 2017

These guys can probably help. I've yet to see them not be able to identify something.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:27 PM on June 6, 2017

That looks like coral, bone, or shell heavily worked on by the sea. That would have to be a VERY thick shell to leave a piece that big with all that weathering, so let's rule that out for now. I'll guess bone. Perhaps tooth. Probably not an artifact. I've seen things like this on the beaches in NE before, might even have something like it around here, I'll take a look.
posted by vrakatar at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2017

If it's remarkably lightweight for it's size, it's probably a bird bone.
posted by bricksNmortar at 6:35 AM on June 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can submit it to the "What Is This Thing" subreddit if you don't want to do it yourself:
posted by wenestvedt at 7:34 PM on June 7, 2017

Sure, feel free. Someone on Twitter seemed VERY certain that it was a dog skull part which ... maybe?
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 PM on June 7, 2017

Here is a searchable bone database if you have some guesses you can compare https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/envarch-gallery/
posted by czytm at 8:11 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I sent the image to a collections manager for mammals who said "that's really weird looking, the second pic almost looks like coral or something, with those designs and stuff. Doesn't look like anything mammalian to me!"
posted by czytm at 5:54 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Update: I still don't know what the damned thing is but I sure do like it.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

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